Archive for Russia

A quick bio of Vasily Grossman

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on April 2, 2011 by mikhailych

A few months ago, actually, more like half a year ago, I did a biographical sketchman Grossman for Suite101. The text of that article canbe found here:



In commemoration of the 64th anniversary of the end of WWII…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2009 by mikhailych

The First Death

You know,
        There is in our soldierly fate,
That first death, Of a classmate, or a friend…
We waited for the patrol to return, in the muggy hut, 
 We were silent,
       Passing around a lone cigarette butt.
Potatoes roasted in a cast iron pot.
I rolled a cigarette,
       And handed it to my neighbor.
You know,
       We have a rule in the war:
To wait for the patrol’s return,
       And eat dinner together.
“Well, how are the guys doing out there?… 
      “Will they make it back?…”
Each one of us repeated the phrase.
He entered.
        Handed a machine gun off to the sergeant.
                 “Serezha is dead…
                              In the head…
And if you ever, 
        Had friends at the front,
You will understand this truth:
                            I expected him to return,
The way, 
        He did in the forests outside Moscow,
Wrapped in machine gun rounds. 
I waited for him in the morning.
       A snowstorm noisily raged.
                  He has to come.
                                I made breakfast.

But somewhere,
        In the deep,
                   Smolensk snowdrifts,
Lies the frozen body,
        Of my brother-in-arms.
You know,
        There is in our soldierly fate, 
That first death…
        We went around in a circle,
Talking about only one thing,
        Not a word about ourselves,
                 Only about avenging,
                               About avenging, Our friend.

1942 -Semen Gudzenko (Translated by me)


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2009 by mikhailych


By Yuri Nagibin


            There are people for whom stars hold a great significance…


            “My dear, I approach the window and see through the whirling and swirling clouds, the lone stars of the never ending heavens. No, you will not fall! God keeps you and I safe in his heart. I see the stars of the Waggoner, the most inviting of all the constellations,” wrote Werther in his last letter to Lotte, after which a shot rang out.


            Werther was the pseudonym of young Goethe and all of Goethe’s passion and torment was bestowed upon him.


            “Yuri was a strange boy,” recalls Anna Timofeevna Gagarina. “He was always pestering me, ‘Mama, why are the stars so beautiful?’ He’d clench his fist so pitifully, as if his heart hurt. ‘Well why? Why are they so beautiful?’ I remember once, still during the occupation, I told him, ‘The people call them out with divine dew or divine tears.’ He pondered that, shook his head and said, ‘If there were a God, we wouldn’t have the Germans.’ He didn’t give the stars back to God…”


            When Gagarin was already a sergeant at the flight academy he visited his parents while on leave. Having heard that her son had a fiancé in Chkalov, Anna Timofeevna constantly asked him, “Well, what’s out future daughter-in-law like?”


            “Well how can I explain it?” said Gagarin shrugging.


            “But it’s so terribly interesting!”


            “But I already showed you her photograph.”


            “What’s a photograph? Nothing but a dead picture. Of course she has a pretty face, but what’s behind it? What’s she like?”


            “I don’t know how to express it,” he said lost.


            The conversation turned to stars that shined above them on that clear August night. Gagarin looked up and was blinded by a large dazzling and radiant star.


            “There, she’s like that star!” he exclaimed joyously.


            His mother seriously and unblinkingly looked at the twinkling light of the star.


            “I understand. Marry her sonny; she’s a very good girl…”


“A unique human document.” That’s the recording of Gagarin’s communication with the Earth. Between Cedre and Dawn during that famous fight. The whole of Gagarin’s courageous, joyful, and deep soul is in that conversation. He was at times sentimental, at times sarcastic, and at times cheeky. Like when he recognized the voice of Leonov and yelled, “My regards to Blondie! I’m going further!” How sincerely, honestly, and trustingly he expressed it, “I now see a star in the right illuminator…The star is gone, its going, its going!”


When German Titov returned from his flight he told Gagarin, “You know, in space the stars don’t twinkle.”


Gagarin became a little pensive.


“You know I didn’t get a chance to notice,” he replied with a sigh. “I made all of one orbit.”


“You’ll see next time.”


“Just you wait…”


However there was no next time and Gagarin himself became a star. More welcoming than the most welcoming stars of the Waggoner; in the “heavens guarded by God.”


No date – From an anthology published in 1977


Translated by me…also published in Sovlit’s Thin Journal

New issue of Sovlit’s Thin Journal is out…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on March 5, 2009 by mikhailych


Happy Holidays!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on December 28, 2008 by mikhailych

Ded Moroz


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on August 12, 2008 by mikhailych

Dima Otvertchenko of

Keep on living the dream Dima!

Solzhenitsyn Excerpts

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on August 4, 2008 by mikhailych

So, back in the early days of my grad school career, the heady late summer/early autumn of 2006, I decided to translate Solzhenitsyn’s novella A Twenty-Four Tale. The novella takes place in Prussia during the winter of 1945. Well, I translated a few chapters, realized it wasn’t going as well as I had hoped. At the same time,I discovered the writings of Vasily Grossman, and the rest is history…or at least an MA thesis and book.

I do, however, have those chapters still on my laptop. While I feel that  on the whole, it’s all too rough to be seen, there are a few excerpts I would like to share:

The ground is frozen and rocky, you won’t dig very far.

The coffins were nailed together quickly, well-done, by our carpenter Sortov, a Mari – from pre-prepared planks that had been smoothed out by a plane.

Does the banner get put up? No one ever saw any banners, except at the brigade parade, when it got all decked out. The banner was always stored somewhere in the supply depot, in the third echelon, so as to not take any chances.

Podkliuchnikov was from the fifth battery. Lepetushin was from the sixth. Party group leader Gubaidulin, laughing stock of the whole division, crawled out to say a few words. This morning he was already drunk and slurred all the hallowed phrases – of the holy Motherland, of the lair of the beast, where we have stepped foot – we’ll avenge them.

*** *** *** *** *** ***
There was no sound of distant gunfire coming from anywhere. No aviation, ours or the Germans. Its as if the war had ended.

It was not a cold day, very cloudy. Low light. For the time being all three divisions had shifted themselves from their standard battle positions and pulled up to brigade headquarters.

It gently wound down to dusk. Even though we had already put down roots in Europe, we still followed Moscow time. As a result it became light at about nine in the morning and got dark, you know, around six.

*** *** *** *** *** ***
Boev always slept deeply but woke quickly. In such a wonderful bed, with a fluffy featherbed, he allowed himself to sleep without his tunic.He was now standing on the run putting it on. His uniform was covered in medals. You would be amazed. He had two Red Banners, and order of Alexander Nevsky, an order of the Great Patriotic War, and two red stars (there was also one from Khasan, one from the Finnish war, and there was a third Red Banner, the last one, but when he was wounded it was either lost or someone stole it.)And so, a chest full of metal, he wore them, not changing his socks. He accepted this burden, one of the joys of a soldier.

It had only been a month since Toplev had been transferred from the commander of the reconnaissance division. As according to regulations, the commander of headquarters, saluted ceremoniously, and reported the facts. His face was solemn, his voice was still warm and childlike.There were two casualties from the second division: Podkliuchnikov and Lepetushin.

The major was of a medium height, but his head was elongated and with a neat, short haircut his face looked like a long rectangle, with corners at the temples and jaw. However his eyebrows were not level and his nose was a little tipped to a deep birthmark on his side, as if it were in never ending, constant tension.

With this tension he listened. And said bitterly after a moment, “Hmmm, stupidity…”

Was it was worth it to endure so many artillery barrages, bombardments, to endure so many beachheads and crossings to die because of a bottle in Germany.

Bury them, but where? They chose their own grave.

*** *** *** *** *** ***
But life, duty – flows, demands. Captain Toplev went the headquarters of the brigade: to find out how the casualties would be recorded.

The director of headquarters, a thin, lanky lieutenant-colonel Beresovoi answered straight away, “The commissar already took care of it: ‘He died a brave death in defense of the Motherland.’

*** *** *** *** *** ***
On the little hill they were knocking together grave markers, not yet decorated. And who will look after them? In Poland German military graves had stood since nineteen-fifteen. Ischukov, the director of communications, shook them loose along the Narev; dragged them – avenged. And no one said a word to him: next to him there stood a SMERSH agaent, Larin.